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Churchgoing Catholics returning to GOP fold

Gov. Sarah Palin has outsized impact on an important bloc in key battleground states.

(Page 2 of 3)

That leaves white, less-observant Catholics.

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“To the extent that there would be a group within the Catholic population that is swingable, it would not be the frequent mass-attending [nor] those who never attend church,” says David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “In the middle, however, is a fairly large group of Catholics who still think of themselves as Catholic and they still go to church periodically.”

These “moderately committed Catholics” share many of the economic- and national-security concerns of the voting public at large, he says, but may be pulled by values issues more than secular voters are.

New political activism among liberal Catholics

Here the Obama camp might benefit from new political energy among Catholic progressives. Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and other groups emphasize how Catholic social teaching applies to a range of issues, from war to the safety net for the poor. They also argue that economic policies may be the most effective way to combat abortion. A new study from Catholics in Alliance, for instance, reports that greater economic aid to poor families and increased male employment correlate with lower abortion rates.

Obama worked to insert language in the Democratic Party platform that speaks of helping women who decide to have a child. His campaign says America “can do more” to support new mothers needing pre- and postnatal healthcare, parenting skills, and income assistance.

“The key for the Democrats is to start to draw some clear connections between issues like abortion and the economic root causes of those issues,” says Chris Korzen, founder of Catholics United. “In places like Pennsylvania and Ohio – swing states – it’s a losing strategy to dichotomize social- and economic-justice questions. Social justice is the best way to resolve the abortion question.”

The Democratic Party’s defense of abortion rights has cost it Catholic votes, including that of Carol Marie Siedenburg. She came to a Palin rally last weekend in Carson City, Nev., to hand out antiabortion literature. Just over a decade ago she favored abortion rights and voted for Democrat Bill Clinton. But that changed, she says, when she started going to weekly mass and researched deeply her church’s reasoning on “life issues.”

“I don’t feel that any one party is perfect, but there are some issues that are more equal than others, [including] the issue of life,” says Ms. Siedenburg, who plans to vote McCain-Palin.